It’s easy to mock the frenzied baby-naming efforts described in Alex Williams’s “Baby Names That Shout Out …”; the books, the naming consultants, the spreadsheets with categories for government trend data, celebrity naming fads and cultural nuances. Why give so much weight to a name, and put so much effort into it?
We parents who played that game can offer some objective reasons. Names matter, they have racial and cultural overtones that make first impressions before we ever appear in person. The latest study to make headlines like “Does Your Baby’s Name Determine Their Success Later in Life?” suggested that people with easy-to-pronounce names were more likely to be elected or promoted.
But maybe the real reason soon-to-be parents spend so much time on name choice can’t be objectified at all. Naming a baby is, quite simply, fun. It’s a wonderful chance to imagine her (or him) in the future, introducing herself, having her name called out as she heads onto the ice for a hockey game or at graduation, coloring it across a school folder. All those names, and all those possible first impressions, give parents free rein to do something we’re really not supposed to do: impose our own expectations and dreams on our children. We might never, ever push an actual child into a drama class, but there’s nothing wrong with debating how her name will look on the cover of a Playbill before she’s even born.
When that baby is born, as she grows up, answering roll calls and forming her signature, she’ll take over that name and make it her own. She’ll use her initials or her middle name.
She’ll pick up a nickname, or just outright change it. The name you loved may not be how she sees herself, or it may ultimately be just right, but almost certainly not in the way you imagined it.
Naming our children is a last indulgence; one more chance to pretend that we can control who they ultimately become. Is it any wonder that we prolong the pleasure? In no time at all, the name we thought of as “ours” will all too clearly not be ours at all.
Did you agonize over naming your children, and are you happy, years later, with your choice? Did you play with your own name as a child, and later as an adult? Do you (like me) secretly want more children and pets – just to get to use some more great names?
A QUANDARY from my friend J.: When, he asks, should you introduce your children to “Star Wars”? As infants, so that they never know a world without Jedi? When they are old enough to appreciate the light sabers and R2-D2? Or when the shock will be full and genuine as Darth Vader intones, “I am your father”?
Of course, this isn’t really a quandary – or, to the extent that it is, it’s the kind of quandary anyone would be happy to have. What it is is a great topic, because it’s not just about “Star Wars.” It’s about everything any parent has ever loved and wanted to share with a child.
When do you watch “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” read the “Harry Potter” books, hand over your copy of “Anne of Green Gables”? When do you produce something that captured your heart as a child and subject it to the scrutiny of the next generation?
It’s only partly a question of when a child is ready for the death of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Are you ready for a child raised on 10-minute Disney Junior segments or steeped in the fast action of video games to fidget or roll her eyes as “Star Wars” gets off to a slow start? What if yours is the child who listens to the first chapter of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” and says, “But there’s no such thing as witches”?
Contact KJ Dell-Antonia at: